Blood pressure is the pressure of blood on walls of arteries as the heart pumps it around the body. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the blood pressure increases to unhealthy levels.
Hypertension is quite common and typically develops over the course of several years. Early detection of hypertension is very important as it can cause damage to the blood vessels and organs such as the heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain.
What are the symptoms of High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure is generally a silent condition without any symptoms.
Symptoms of severe hypertension can include:
- Chest pain
- Blood in the urine
- Blurred vision
- Pounding in the chest, neck, or ears
- Shortness of breath
What causes High Blood Pressure?
There are two types of hypertension.
Primary hypertension, also called essential hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years with no identifiable cause in most adults. Following factors may cause primary hypertension:
- Genes: Some people are genetically predisposed to hypertension.
- Physical changes in the body: For example, the changes in the kidney function due to aging may upset the body’s natural balance of salts and fluid causing the blood pressure to increase.
- Environment: Unhealthy lifestyle choices like lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits can lead to being overweight resulting in an increased risk of hypertension.
Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying condition. Several conditions that may cause secondary hypertension include:
- Kidney disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Congenital heart defects
- Thyroid problems
- Certain medications e.g. birth control pills, pain relievers
- Use of illegal drugs
- Alcohol abuse or chronic use
- Adrenal gland tumors
What are the complications associated with High Blood Pressure?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to complications including:
- Heart failure: High blood pressure causes the walls of the heart’s pumping chamber to thicken also known as left ventricular hypertrophy which can lead to heart failure.
- Heart attack or Stroke: High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries leading to a heart attack, stroke or other complications.
- Weakened and narrowed blood vessels in the kidneys
- Aneurysm: Increased blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm.
- Metabolic syndrome: This syndrome is a cluster of disorders of the body’s metabolism resulting in an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
- Dementia: Narrowed or blocked arteries can limit blood flow to the brain, leading to vascular dementia.
- Thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes can lead to vision loss.
- Trouble with memory or understanding is more common in people with high blood pressure.
What are the risk factors for High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:
- Age: The risk of high blood pressure increases with age.
- Family History: High blood pressure tends to run in families.
- Inactive lifestyle: People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Intake of too much alcohol may affect the blood pressure.
- Intake of too much salt can cause the body to retain fluid resulting in increased blood pressure.
- Smoking can cause arteries to narrow and increase the risk of heart disease. Secondhand smoke also can increase heart disease risk.
- Intake of too little potassium can cause an accumulation of too much sodium in the blood resulting in increased blood pressure.
- Stress: High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions may increase the risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and obstructive sleep apnea.
- Pregnant women.
What is a normal blood pressure reading?
A blood pressure reading, given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), has two numbers. The first or upper number is the systolic pressure, which measures the pressure on the blood vessel walls when the heart beats. The second or lower number is the diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure on the blood vessels between beats when the heart is at rest.
Blood pressure measurements fall into four general categories:
- Systolic mm Hg less than 120
- And Diastolic mm Hg less than 80
- Systolic mm Hg: 120 – 129
- And Diastolic mm Hg: less than 80
- Stage 1 Hypertension
- Systolic mm Hg: 130 – 139
- Or Diastolic mm Hg: 80 – 89
- Stage 2 Hypertension
- Systolic mm Hg: 140 or higher
- Or Diastolic mm Hg: 90 or higher
- Hypertensive Crisis, Blood pressure in this range requires urgent medical attention
- Systolic mm Hg: Higher than 180
- And/or Diastolic mm Hg: Higher than 120
What are the tips to control High Blood Pressure?
Lifestyle changes can help control and prevent high blood pressure. Following tips may help:
- Eat foods that are lower in fat, salt, and calories, such as low-fat dairy foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean proteins like fish
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight through a heart-healthy diet and increased physical activity help lower the blood pressure.
- Get regular physical activity. Exercise can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and strengthen the cardiovascular system.
- Limit the amount of alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Manage stress. Exercise is a great way to manage stress. Activities such as meditation, deep breathing, massage, muscle relaxation can also be helpful.